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raceAhead: The Unique Pain of East Austin

We now know much more about the Austin bombing suspect, a young man who documented his crimes in great detail in a video confession which has been described by interim Austin police chief Brian Manley as “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his life that led him to this point.”

But, as associate professor of Black Studies and Asian American studies at the University of Texas at Austin Eric Tang points out, we know much less about the people he terrorized. And this compounds the tragedy.

“Whatever the investigation yields, the bombings will forever feel like terror to the city’s longstanding African-American and Latino residents,” he begins in this opinion piece for The New York Times. “They are reminded once again that the narrative of Austin’s exceptionalism — the notion of the city as a politically progressive and countercultural oasis in the deep, conservative south — never really applied to them.”

The first three bombings took place in East Austin, a Jim Crow era creation as ugly as it was efficient. The first victim, Anthony Stephan House, lived in the city’s former “Negro District,” a centerpiece of the city’s 1928 plan to isolate black people into one locale and limit their access to schools, parks and other services. This “separate but equal” plan was complete by 1932, when the entire black population had been relocated.

House, a devoted parent, partner, and the head of the local homeowner’s association, was initially blamed by police for the bombing, a charge they later walked back.

Coincidentally, Tang has been conducting research exploring black flight from Austin, which is the only fast-growing city with a shrinking black population. He’d completed a survey in the East Austin neighborhood where one bomb later killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason and injured his mother, Shamika Wilson, and a separate package device injured Esperanza Herrera.

In their responses, residents measured the transformation of their community by the gradual disappearance of their neighborhood children and lamented the loss of long-time resident families who are being gentrified away by young, childless up-and-comers. It makes Draylen’s murder even more painful, but in a way, unsurprising. “For Draylen’s neighbors and others in the area, there was nothing coincidental about three bombs being planted and detonated on that side of the interstate,” says Tang. That their specific fears went unacknowledged was just another chapter in a long history of erasure and cultural violence, challenges of a far different sort.

“Fear, I know, crept into the hearts of all Austinites,” he writes. “But the events of this month have left this city’s African-Americans and Latinos wounded in ways that few others will ever truly know.”

On Point

It appears that Cambridge Analytica pulled off a dry run in the 2015 Nigerian electionsSCL, the parent company of the now famous Cambridge Analytica, was hired by a wealthy Nigerian to influence the presidential election in 2015. “It was the kind of campaign that was our bread and butter,” one ex-employee told The Guardian. “We’re employed by a billionaire who’s panicking at the idea of a change of government and who wants to spend big to make sure that doesn’t happen.” In addition to creating horrific and fearmongering videos designed to suppress the vote, it’s also believed that the company worked with Israeli hackers to dig up dirt on Muhammadu Buhari, then the leader of the opposition. Click through for some exemplary and frightening reporting.The Guardian

Sex trafficking bill lurches forward
While Facebook’s problems seem to have barely started, one long-standing issue has the power to change the way search engines and social platforms conduct business: Sex trafficking. Over the vocal concerns of tech firms, Congress is moving forward with the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, a bill that would empower state law enforcement to better attack sex trafficking sites like Backpage.com, but more importantly, suspend certain protections that have long shielded companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook from legal liability for the content on their platforms.
New York Times

Hundreds of companies face class action suits because their websites are difficult to use by disabled people
Federal class action lawsuits filed in recent months are alleging that company websites like those owned by Burger King, Hershey, Lord & Taylor, Nike and Pandora are failing to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was passed in July of 1990. One of the issues facing businesses is that compliance itself is unclear. The ADA was passed in the pre-internet era and proposed Department of Justice guidance updating the online components of the “full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations” requirement was delayed by the Obama administration in 2016, and eliminated entirely by the Trump administration in January. Most industry categories are facing some sort of lawsuit; more than 800 were filed in 2017 alone.
CBS News

Lena Waithe goes to Vanity Fair
If you want to get a deeper sense of why diversity in entertainment and journalism matters, then spend some time with this extraordinary piece on performer/writer/creator Lena Waite, now on the cover of Vanity Fair. Waithe is a remarkable talent, coming of age at a time when black creativity is being recognized, amplified and rewarded. (Is it? asks Ava DuVernay who gave Waithe one of her earliest breaks. We’ve been here before, she reminds us.) In addition to being a nuanced profile of the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series, it does double duty by allowing writer Jacqueline Woodson to insert her own perspective as a queer, black Midwestern seeker who has walked a parallel path. “For so many of us who have not seen an out Black lesbian front and center this way, her arrival is a small, long-awaited revelation,” she writes. “Her arrival is our arrival.”
Vanity Fair

The Woke Leader

The truth about tech
If you’re struggling to put the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica news into context, I’d recommend this essay from Anil Dash, the CEO of Fog Creek Software and one of raceAhead’s favorite philosopher-technologists. He begins with an important assertion: Technology isn’t an industry or a set of consumer products. Instead, he says, think of it as “a method of transforming the culture and economics of existing systems and institutions.” While technology itself is not neutral – nor is it inevitable, product upgrades aside –  the people who work in tech typically want to do good in the world. That said, they tend to be remarkably ignorant about their users, and rarely undergo ethics training. And it’s important to understand the surprisingly few ways that tech companies make money. Advertising was Facebook’s choice. “It’s a business model built around surveillance, which is particularly striking since it’s the one that most consumer internet businesses rely upon,” Dash explains.
Medium

What does a scientist look like?
Fifty years ago, if you asked a child to draw a scientist, they would most likely have sketched a man, probably in a lab coat. But according to an ongoing social experiment conducted since the 1960s, today’s kids are more likely than ever before to portray a woman when given the same assignment. Some 28% of children in recent studies drew women scientists, compared to just 1% in the studies conducted before 1980. Doesn’t sound like much progress? Ask your team to draw their idea of “a leader.” Almost all, men and women alike, will draw a man. Oh yes, they will.
Fortune

A better metric for criminal justice interventions
The concept of implicit bias continues to be the centerpiece of inclusion thinking, as waves of new research and anti-bias practitioners are raising awareness of the consequences of bias in education, policing, medicine, and the workforce. Researchers believe that there is reason to hope that a deeper understanding of bias, when combined with studies of race and history, might uncover new remedies for the systemic societal oppressions that have long been enabled by unintentional behaviors.
African American Intellectual History Society

Quote

He was every inch a musician . . . the very most remarkable talent in a most remarkable youth orchestra program . . . He carried himself with a kind of quiet maturity that belied his youth.
Doug Dempster on Draylen Mason